Food waste opportunities within the food wholesale and retail sectors - final report

Prepared for the NSW Environment Protection Authority
Food industry and trade Waste management Recycling Food relief Waste minimization New South Wales
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This research, conducted for the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), looked at where, why and how much food waste is currently generated by food retail and wholesale businesses, such as supermarkets and grocers. The research report also suggests ways the NSW EPA could support industry to maximise their efforts.

Supported by a comprehensive review of Australian and international literature, the team engaged key stakeholders from across industry to develop a detailed picture of current sources of food waste, actions already being taken, and barriers to further improvement. In all, the team spoke to 21 businesses across the NSW food supply chain, including all 5 major supermarket retailers.

Comprehensive data on volumes of food waste are scarce, but research indicates that most food waste is currently sent to landfill, with only small amounts donated to food rescue charities (in the order of 5-25%) or recycled through, for example, composting or use as animal feed (around 20%).

The most common reasons identified for food waste by food retailers and wholesalers include:

  • damage during handling and transport
  • rejection of the product for safety or quality reasons, aesthetic standards or incorrect packaging/labelling
  • the customer spurns the product for appearance or shelf-life reasons
  • the product spoils or expires due to poor forecasting, poor inventory management, low demand, poor rotation or lack of appropriate climate control.

A key finding of the research is that much of the food waste that occurs at the wholesale and retail stages of the supply chain is actually caused (or influenced) by practices at earlier stages.

Most of the businesses the researchers spoke to are already taking action with initiatives ranging from prevention and minimisation of waste, through to food donations and source separation for recycling.

ISF adapted the traditional waste hierarchy specifically for this research to suit the context and priorities of the food retail and wholesale sectors. Businesses can use this revised hierarchy to prioritise their efforts to reduce food waste.

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